Three days later saw Belihn more rested, although his face still held the remnants of his beatings in Castle Draemin’s donjon. He had spent most of the three days abed and drugged on the tea the healer had given Ryeo’h to administer to him. Now he stood at the window gazing down upon the near full boulevard. It seemed most people still clung to the streets. He wondered if the populace was excited at the recent events that would go down as a significant historical moment. Yllysia had never come down this far south before. Now their armada clogged Draemin Bay. Even Ryeo’h did not know what the Yllysian’s intent was – whether subjugation or protection. Today they would find out.
Belihn completed his morning ablutions, having bathed and dressed in his finest clothes and plaited his hair. As he pulled on the knee-high boots over his trouser legs, there was a knock on the bedroom door.
“Come!” he said and straightened.
Kurk entered. “Ah, you’ve cleaned up. You look better, although anyone with eyes can see what the King did to his own son.”
Belihn sighed. “I still get dizzy if I stand too long and I still don’t have full use of my hands. But I can function, for the most part.”
“Good,” Kurk said. “Come. We are meeting with the Yllysian Ambassador at the embassy.”
Ryeo’h and Irai’h were waiting in the sitting room. They stopped conversing when Belihn and Kurk entered and rose from their seats.
“How are you feeling, Belihn?” Ryeo’h asked.
Belihn nodded. “Better, for the most part.” He held up his swollen, mottled hands. “Still can’t use these well.”
“That will come back with time,” Ryeo’h assured him. “Did you break your fast?”
“I ate as much as I could stomach of the boiled grains,” Belihn replied. “Don’t have much appetite, thanks to that tea you keep making me drink.”
Ryeo’h spread his hands. “Rest was more important than food, but that will be reversed now. You’ll need to eat more as the days ahead promise to be nothing short of a marathon. I’ve hired a coach to take us to the Yllysian Embassy. It promises to be a long, drawn out meeting, so we’ll return here afterward so you can rest.”
Belihn took a deep, bracing breath and nodded. “Lead the way then.”
Outside Ryeo’h’s front door were six Yllysian warriors arraigned up and down the five steps leading up from the sidewalk. Ryeo’h led Belihn and the others down to the street level and into the carriage. The Yllysians mounted their beasts and surrounded the carriage as it rolled down the boulevard toward the Diplomatic District.
“Why all the guards?” Belihn asked.
Ryeo’h turned to look at him. “Your life is from now to be protected at all costs. We’ve sent out information among the populace that you are the Goddess’ own Chosen and you will be crowned King. After the information was dispersed, I got information from my operatives that there are at least two contracts out on your life.”
“It’s the clan that want me dead, I suppose,” Belihn stated blandly.
Kurk nodded. “You are correct. I’ve already started to organize your personal guard. Your personal guard will be made of 50 young commoners and the position will be hereditary. These young men were recruited from the most disaffected but whom are young enough to be molded into a well oiled and highly effective unit.” He flicked a glance towards Ryeo’h then back to Belihn. “I’m also recruiting for a network of spies to keep you protected and in power.”
“Have you talked to Rakah Ys’teis?” Belihn asked.
Kurk dipped his head. “I asked him what I have to do, as Head of Security. He suggested the spy network and he had suggestions as to how and whom to recruit.”
Ryeo’h shifted. “But the idea of the King’s Guards was all Kurk.”
Kurk blushed and ducked his head. “I am a connoisseur of history. Ryeo’h here wants to make you a legend, Belihn. The King’s Guard will create an image of glamor while at the same time preserving your life.”
“I see,” Belihn said. “But we still don’t know what the Yllysians want. I might just be a figurehead to them.”
“Let’s not reach conclusions as yet,” Ryeo’h warned. He took a breath and released it. “By the way, as soon as you are well, I would like to introduce you to your new secretary, Tesjun Othar.”
Belihn sighed. “A secretary; a guard corps. What else can I expect?”
Kurk snorted. “You can expect to be king, Belihn. So, you’ll need a wife and heirs.”
“I already have an intended,” Belihn murmured. “Alona Oh’nahry.”
“A commoner?” Ryeo’h asked.
Belihn nodded. “Yes. Is that a problem?”
“No,” his friend replied. “But in order to stabilize your reign, it might be good to marry an Yllysian.”
“You think?” Belihn asked, not sure how he felt about having two wives.
“Yes,” Ryeo’h told him. “That is what we are going to propose to the Yllysians.”
Kurk had been watching Belihn silently. “We know where your proclivities lie, Belihn. Having two wives does not mean you can’t have a male lover.”
Ryeo’h frowned. “He will have to be vetted, of course. We can’t just let anyone into your inner circle.”
Belihn rolled his eyes. “This is both embarrassing and frustrating.”
Kurk smirked. “Such will be your life from now on, my friend.”
The carriage turned a corner and rolled up a gentle incline to the Diplomatic District, coming to a stop in front of Yllysia’s modest embassy. The building was surrounded by guards in leather armor and embassy colors. Belihn’s armed escort formed a line between himself and the street as he made his way behind Ryeo’h and Irai’h and in front of Kurk. He was led up the three marble steps into the beautifully appointed but simple foyer.
Neth Oronom Shejl, the Ambassorial Assistant waited at the foot of the stairs and bowed. “The Ambassador will see you upstairs. Please follow me.”
They went upstairs, Belihn struggling with his weak and shaking legs. He held on to the balustrade and measured his steps.
Mister Oronom led them to a door near the middle of the hallway. Inside there was a plush outer office with gleaming eishano wood furniture, rich silk tapestries on the walls and thick throw rugs over the gleaming wooden floors. They were led to the inner office and through the door to an expansive office with a large desk and five chairs facing it. Ambassador Torim stood behind the desk.
“Welcome,” Ambassador Torim murmured and indicated the chairs. “Please sit. Bring us tea, Shejl please.”
The assistant bowed. “Right away, Excellency.”
When the assistant closed the door, the Ambassador took his seat.
“Thank you for your joining me today,” he said, looking Belihn over. “You look better than I expected, but it’s been nearly three weeks since you were tortured. They must have been very thorough.”
Belihn grimaced. “They were, sir.”
The Ambassador shook his head. “Well, you are stronger for it, I imagine.” He sighed and sat back. “Now, we have a few things to discuss that are crucial. Ah, Shejl. Good, good.”
Mister Oronom entered carrying a tray with a large teapot and five mugs. He set the mugs on the desk and poured the tea, dropping a pale leaf into each cup.
Belihn frowned. “What is the leaf for?”
Mister Oronom smiled. “The atholos leaf changes color in the presence of most poisons. Heat activates the reaction within the leaf.”
He handed the mugs around.
Belihn took his mug. “What about a cold drink?”
The Ambassador accepted his mug from his assistant. “Then we have tasters for that, your Grace.”
Belihn swallowed thickly. “I am no King yet.”
The Ambassador waved a dismissive hand. “A mere technicality. I am sure our demands will not overly tax the new government.”
Belihn sipped his tea, which was sweet and spicy, with the lance of alcohol. It was quite good. “Name your demands then, your Excellency.”
Ambassador Torim sat back in his chair. “Please take notes, Shejl.”
The assistant sat down and picked up his pen and a bound notebook and set them at the edge of the desk. “I’m ready, your Excellency.”
The Ambassador nodded and looked at Belihn. “As we have spoken of before, Isajhi will be returned to Yllysia.”
“Agreed,” Belihn replied. “We will repatriate our citizens somewhere else.”
“That won’t be necessary,” the Ambassador replied. “As long as they pay taxes and rent on their properties, they may remain.”
“That’s very generous of Yllysia,” Kurk said.
The Ambassador smiled. “All we want is ownership of what was ours always.” He looked at Belihn. “We want the ability to trade with North Torahn and other nations. Our merchant ships should be able to travel the Raiye’itah and Sani’Rhath Oceans without a threat of reprisal from the Torahnis. We have just as much right to have trade agreements with nations like Tjish.un and South Torahn without war being declared on us.”
Belihn sipped his tea. “I am not sure I can speak for the other city-states, your Excellency.”
“The other city-states will have to draw up new agreements with Draemin City now that it has a new regime,” the Ambassador said. “All we ask is that you make the ability of Yllysia to have trade agreements with other nations a stipulation of your own agreements.”
“Done,” Belihn stated.
Ryeo’h shifted. “Besides, Draemin City-State has been the main force patrolling the eastern oceans. If we allow Yllysian ships passage, no one will challenge you.”
The Ambassador smiled. “Precisely.”
Ryeo’h nodded. “Ambassador, may I suggest a gesture of good will between our nations?”
The Ambassador frowned. “Our assistance in stabilizing the city was not enough of a good will gesture?”
“On your behalf, yes,” Ryeo’h assured him. “I speak on our behalf.”
The Ambassador’s right eyebrow shot up. “Go on.”
“I propose that Belihn marry an Yllysian girl. A daughter of the Council of Ten.”
The Ambassador started. “You would put an Yllysian on the throne of Draemin City-State?”
“We would be tied by blood and marriage,” Ryeo’h stated. “And thus Yllysia would become Draemin City-State’s closest ally, in the same way Tjish.un has been by way of the Ys’teis clan and the Tjashensi clan.”
The Ambassador rose and walked to the window, pulling the curtains apart and staring onto the gardens below.
“That is most generous of you,” he said at length. He turned to face them. “I will put it to the Council of Ten and, if they agree, they will choose a young woman. Will the King have another wife?”
Belihn rose. “I have a betrothed, your Excellency. A friend.”
“I see. You would hold your wives in equal status?” the Ambassador asked. “We will countenance no snubbing of our girl.”
“I’ll treat them both as friends, sir. You have my word.”
“We have on more stipulation,” the Yllysian said.
Belihn sat down. “Name it.”
“We heard you are to have a Royal Guard.”
Kurk huffed a laugh. “But how can you possibly know this so soon?”
The Ambassador smiled faintly. “I have my ways.” He looked at Belihn. “Half of your Royal Guard must be of the Yllysian Elite. We would protect what benefits Yllysia with Yllysian force. Also, we will leave a force of 1,000 men to protect Draemin City-State from civil war and invasion. We ask if you seek mercenaries, that you get them from Yllysia first. We are a poor nation, sir. Our isolation, forced by North Torahni practices, have impoverished us further. For nigh on 1,000 years we have been forced to live in isolation while the rest of the world grew wealthier. That stops now.”
Belihn rose and put his hand out. “Agreed.”
The Ambassador clasped his hand. “Then we have an agreement. I will write the Council of Ten about your Yllysian wife.”
Mister Oronom rose. “I have those agreements drawn up, your Excellency. I will bring them in.”
“Very good, Shejl. Please put in the stipulation about the Yllysian wife.”
Ryeo’h, Irai’h and Kurk rose.
“Did you know Belihn would agree to your terms?” Kurk asked.
“I had hoped,” the Ambassador said.
“They are not unreasonable terms,” Belihn murmured.
“Anti-Yllysian prejudice is strong in North Torahn,” the Ambassador stated. “Perhaps not in Draemin City-State, for it is more cosmopolitan here. But we don’t even have embassies in the other city-states. That must change. We want to trade with North Torahn as a whole, not just Draemin City.”
“You will,” Belihn assured him. “I will make it a priority for my government.”
“Toward that end,” the Ambassador said. “May I suggest you employ an advisor of Yllysian descent? To ensure our interests are protected?”
“Do you have an advisor in mind?” Ryeo’h asked.
“We have two men: A commoner and a child of the Council of Ten.”
Ryeo’h sighed. “All this change might work against stabilizing Belihn’s rule.”
“Our troops will ensure protection for the new King,” the Ambassador replied. “These terms are nonnegotiable. You accept or we take over the rule of Draemin City-State.”
Ryeo’h looked at Belihn. “It’s your decision, Belihn.”
Belihn turned to the Ambassador. He clasped his hands once more. “I owe Yllysia everything. I agree to your terms and will affix my signature on your agreements.”
Kurk turned to Belihn. “Shouldn’t we discuss this, Belihn?”
“You wanted me as your King,” Belihn told him. “I was forced to be your King. Now I ask that you abide by my choices.”
Kurk bowed. “Of course, your Grace.”
Mister Oronom returned with a stack of papers. He set them on the desktop.
“There are several contracts here,” he said to Belihn. “I will order some food for us. This will take hours, your Grace.”
“I have no experience with contracts,” Belihn said.
“But I do, your Grace,” Ryeo’h murmured. “I have been drawing contracts for my father’s firm for nearly ten years. Have a seat, Belihn. You needn’t overtax yourself.”
Belihn sighed and took a seat, bracing himself for a long day.